REVIEW: Ward Thomas – Live At The Leamington Assembly

file-27-10-2016Catherine and Lizzy have come a long way since I saw them co-headlining with The Shires at the Glee Club in front of around a hundred people. Two years on, they’ve topped the all-genre album chart with their sophomore album ‘Cartwheels’, and they seem to appear everywhere you look. Now signed to Sony Music, this has been their breakthrough year with TV and radio appearances galore, and it was wonderful to see them selling out the Leamington Assembly, a rather large venue for an act at this stage in their career.

A real added bonus was the opportunity to see Sarah Darling opening the show, as unfortunately I couldn’t catch her appearance at C2C. Accompanied by Dean Roberts on guitar, Sarah blew us away with her angelic vocals, introducing us to a range of new material from her upcoming album. A particular highlight was her performance of ‘Where Cowboys Ride’, a beautifully written track with such simplistic but equally gorgeous backing. The only disappointment was that she didn’t perform my personal favourite ‘Home To Me’. There’s a lot to be excited about with Sarah Darling; I think her album will be a huge success.

Surprisingly, the girls came on stage to ‘Good On You’, one of the slowest ballads on the new album. Not the rocking opener we’ve come to expect from live shows, but it grabbed everybody’s attention from the outset and you could have heard a pin drop. It’s my personal favourite on the album and it sounded even better live. Their harmonies are effortless and there’s immense power in their vocals that has to be admired.

Nearly all of the new album was included in the set list, from the pop-infused ‘Material’, ‘Boomerang’ and ‘Lose Me’ to the stripped back ballads ‘Where The Sky Is’, ‘Almost Easy’ and ‘Safe’. But a particular highlight, as always with Ward Thomas shows, was ‘Cartwheels’ which continues to impress me nearly two years after I first heard it. They tell the story with such passion and emotion, and it’s always one of those goose bump moments in the set. They explained how this song had set the tone for the rest of the album and given them a direction in terms of where their career was headed; clearly one that means a lot to them as it became the title track of the album.

If I’m being really picky, there wasn’t much interaction with the audience throughout the show. They ploughed through the set list without much discussion, but I suppose every act is different in this regard. Stage presence has never been their forte, but we were there to appreciate the music and the quality of their vocals, and they certainly delivered in that sense. A few fan favourites from the debut album were thrown in along the way like ‘The Good and the Right’ and ‘Push For The Stride’, the latter providing a great sing-a-long section that always gets the crowd going.

They finished with the lead single ‘Carry You Home’ which always sounds fabulous live with its thumping backbeat and heavy bass. Then, they returned to the stage for a 2 song encore welcomed by rapturous applause, performing ‘Who I’m Not’ and ‘Town Called Ugley’ which is always great fun and has become a mainstay over the years.

These girls are really going places. Their live show has transformed so much over the years, it’s slick, the band are terrific, their vocals are utterly faultless and their sound has become much more accessible for the mainstream crowd. Ticket sales for this tour tell you everything you need to know, and it’s refreshing to see them breaking through that notoriously difficult country barrier.